VERDICT: Rowe-Turner the derby-day hero as Poppies edge out Diamonds
Lathaniel Rowe-Turner was the unlikely derby-day hero as Kettering Town completed the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central double over local rivals AFC Rushden & Diamonds with a 1-0 success at a sun-drenched Hayden Road.
With his first goal for the club, the defender popped up with what proved to be the winner on the stroke of half-time as Marcus Law’s champions turned in a professional display to secure a result that added a cherry to a tasty cake they have made for themselves this season.
But, as you would expect, the Poppies were given a decent examination by their near neighbours who turned in a typically hard-working display without ever really having the bit of quality needed to break down the resolute visitors.
For Andy Peaks and his team, the performance was probably as important as the result as they came into the game on the back of a heavy 5-0 defeat at Coalville Town on Saturday.
But they put that behind them and competed throughout against a Kettering side who really sucked the life out of the game in the second period after Rowe-Turner had put them in front in the latter stages of the first half.
Diamonds started brightly and just as the game appeared to be settling down, they really should have taken the lead on 16 minutes.
The Poppies defence froze as a long ball was played forward and Jack Bowen did everything right as he lifted the ball over the advancing Paul White, only to see his effort bounce off the far post.
Bowen reacted quickly and forced White into a sharp stop at his near post and then, from the resulting corner, Jack Ashton sent a free header wide when he probably should have done better.
Michael Richens made his mark on the game with a late challenge on Sam Brown which earned the Poppies man a deserved booking and the visitors were hampered by the loss of striker Dan Holman after he pulled up with what looked like a hamstring injury.
But Kettering’s first moment of quality created the game’s defining moment as half-time approached.
After a neat build-up, Aaron O’Connor produced a superb back-heel to give Marcus Kelly an opening on the left of the area. His attempted cut-back was blocked but it fell into the path of Rowe-Turner who produced a good finish into the far corner.
It might have been worse for Diamonds as the highly-impressive Dion Kelly-Evans blasted over after he was played in by Lindon Meikle in stoppage-time but Kettering set their stall out after the break, despite having another reshuffle after Richens was withdrawn and replaced by Gary Stohrer.
White had to be alert to push away Bowen’s snap-shot but the Poppies went on to dominate possession after that, without ever really troubling Ben Heath in the Diamonds goal.
And it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes that things really opened up.
Rhys Hoenes headed wide from a Stohrer cross while, at the other end, White produced another decent stop from Ben Acquaye - one of the substitutes introduced by Peaks in an attempt to make his team more of an attacking force.
But it was Heath who was the busier goalkeeper towards the end as he turned Brett Solkhon’s curling effort over crossbar before throwing himself full length to keep out a 40-yard blockbuster from Kelly-Evans.
In the end, the final outcome was probably about right with the Poppies seemingly having the edge throughout.
With little else to play for aside from pride and with the beach beckoning for both sets of players, it wasn’t the spectacle it might have been.
Nonetheless, the endeavour from both teams couldn’t be questioned.
And, when the dust settles after the season is over, both clubs will be able to reflect on a good job done for different reasons.
Diamonds: Heath; Collard, Dolman, Ashton (sub Acquaye, 79 mins); Reynolds, Hicks, Farrell, Curtis (sub Diamond, 68 mins), Brown; Bowen (sub Johnson, 79 mins), Lorraine. Sub not used: Rogers.
Poppies: White; Kelly-Evans, Solkhon, Stanley, Rowe-Turner; Richens (sub Stohrer, h-t); Meikle, Milnes, Kelly; Holman (sub Hoenes, 30 mins), O’Connor. Subs not used: Brighton, Toseland, Graham.
Referee: Scott Tallis.
Goal: Rowe-Turner (45 mins, 0-1).
Bookings: Richens, Collard, Lorraine (all fouls).
Diamonds man-of-the-match: Ben Farrell - never gave up on the cause. Got round the pitch, made tackles and did his best to get some attacks going. The final pass could have been better at times but his hard work and endeavour summed up what this Diamonds team is all about.
Poppies man-of-the-match: Dion Kelly-Evans - he was the Poppies’ main outlet for the majority of the first half in his familiar right-back role as he got up and down the pitch in his usual manner. Switched into a more unfamiliar midfield role as part of a half-time reshuffle and performed well with plenty of energy. One of the unsung heroes of this season and impressive on this occasion.
Attendance: 1,165 (Poppies fans 419).